Cartography is a both an art and a science which goes back to our earliest recorded history. It is defined as the study and practice of making maps, and builds on the premise that information can be modeled in ways that communicate spatial information effectively. Cartography includes the challenging mathematical process of representing a portion of a spherical object, such as the earth, on a flat surface like a piece of paper or a computer screen. It also involves the visual arts, using combinations of shapes, symbols and colors, carefully integrated, to represent and communicate the details of a physical area.
Until recently, these maps were typically 2-D images that gave fairly limited information in comparison to today’s digital maps, which can be layered with seemingly infinite amounts of data. Data creation is aided by aerial photography, satellite images, and remote sensing, which provide efficient, precise methods for mapping physical features such as coastlines, roads, buildings, and topography. Modern cartographic tools have been used to create a much more precise map of the entire world than we’ve ever been able to produce before.
Cartography can be broken down into two categories: general and thematic. General cartography involves maps that are intended for a general audience and contain a variety of features. Thematic cartography creates maps intended for specific purposes with specific information, often used to show patterns or trends. This category has experienced a boom as the volume of geographic data has multiplied and thematic cartography has become increasingly useful and necessary to interpret spatial, cultural, and social data.